Clean phosphate de-risks rare earth aspirations

RareX Limited (ASX: REE) was an early mover in the exploration of rare earths in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.

RareX’s early vison was beyond that of its regional peers, based on a fundamental belief in the emerging electronics revolution that would rely heavily on rare earths, and associated battery and electronic metals.

The Cummins Range project is the RareX flagship, from which it aspires to produce a reliable and strategically aligned rare earth supply chain, with broader intentions to grow the portfolio globally in strategic locations proximate to end markets.

A recent updated mineral resource estimate (MRE) for Cummins Range shows 44 million tonnes at one per cent total rare earth oxide and six per cent phosphate. This is within a wider resource of 524 million tonnes at 0.31 per cent total rare earth oxide, and 4.6 per cent phosphate for 1.6 million tonnes of contained total rare earth oxide and 24 million tonnes of contained phosphate. This makes Cummins Range Australia’s largest undeveloped rare earth project.

An important facet of the MRE is the phosphate resource, and is where the Cummins Range story starts to get very interesting.

‘It is quite a unique attribute of this deposit that the phosphate mineral, which sits alongside the rare earth mineral, is very clean,’ CEO James Durrant told Future Mining.

‘That means the phosphate doesn’t contain any rare earths, and it doesn’t contain any heavy metal contamination, which means that when it goes into the phosphoric acid business, it can create more high‑value, high-grade phosphoric acid for lower reagent use, and thus lower cost.

‘And that higher-grade acid is a precursor for lithium-ferro-phosphate (LFP) batteries. This makes the project very capitally efficient and, coupled with our offtake strategy, means we can keep the infrastructure to a mid size rather than needing to build a mega project.’

A scoping study completed in 2023 determined Cummins Range as a fundable, low-CAPEX, Stage 1 direct shipping ore (DSO) phosphate project that would be the springboard for a longer-term, high-value, low-risk, staged rare earths operation.

The scoping study delivered a practical approach to allow the economic extraction of valuable rare earths and phosphate battery feedstock via a staged development, incorporating a strategy to monetise the phosphate-rich overburden material as a DSO fertiliser product.

Sale of the phosphate-dominant/low-rare-earth overburden would reduce stripping costs during the early stages of the project development, while de-risking the development of the longer-term, full-scale critical minerals project focused on the delivery of rare earths and phosphate concentrates for electric vehicle magnets and LFP batteries.

A three-stage approach would commence by mining the clean rock phosphate for direct application, as Stage 1, although it is noted that there is an intention to accelerate Stage 2 as much as possible due to it’s ability to bring in higher, earlier cash flows.

Stage 2 would entail positive flotation and leach performance of monazite–apatite from the regolith, with Stage 3 taking advantage of the upside of coarse monazite in the fresh rock.

According to Durrant, ‘The simplicity of the project and the recently de‑risked supply chain, coupled with the favourable location for government support, gives us a good chance of becoming an operator in the next couple of years.

‘Our priorities now are to identify strategic offtake partners, advance Stage 1 to definitive feasibility study and Stage 2 to prefeasibility study, and complete submissions for mining approvals.’ 

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